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Strategies to Deter Plagiarism in Student Assignments

Anne Hird, Ph.D.
Eric V. LePage
Bridgewater State University

While plagiarism is not new, computer technology has made it easier than ever for students to turn in work, either intentionally or inadvertently, that is not entirely their own. Plagiarism is like a fire—it is important to know what to do if it happens, but it is even better to prevent it altogether. This website includes proactive steps you can take to deter plagiarism in student assignments.

Consider Your Assignments: Do They Lend Themselves to Plagiarism?

The more that a student has to link the content you are teaching to his/her own experience, the more difficult it becomes for a student to plagiarize. For example, it is easy enough to find on the Web papers on John Dewey’s philosophy. In contrast, it would be far more difficult for a student to plagiarize if the assignment requires the student to relate John Dewey’s philosophy to the student’s own learning experience. Requiring students to compare, contrast, or assimilate in some other way, the course content with their own experiential frame of reference makes it very difficult for students to find ready-made papers or portions of papers to fit the assignment.

Require Draft Submission

Required but ungraded draft submission allows the instructor to get a sense of the student’s writing style at various points in the semester. In addition, students cannot procrastinate until the last minute, which may then lead to the temptation to plagiarize when time has run short. If the instructor provides feedback on the drafts and adequate time for revisions, students may also gain confidence in their own ability to complete a quality product. One caution: draft submission shifts the heaviest workload for both students and instructor from the end of the semester to the third quarter of the semester. The workload during the draft review period can be heavy; however, at the end of the semester, students are only doing the final revisions and the instructor is doing final grading on end products that he/she has already seen at least once. The best part is that the students actually apply the feedback in a way that they do not if it comes only at final grading time, and the instructor has the satisfaction of reviewing quality final products.

Provide Students with Ample Information on When and How to Cite Sources

Plagiarism may be an intentional shortcut, but it may also be the result of not knowing when or how to cite sources. For more information on citing sources in APA, MLA, and Turabian style formats, visit BSU’s Bibliographic Style Guide site.

Seeking Permission

Provide students with directions on how to seek permission to use an item from the owner of that particular intellectual property. This is a common need in creating websites and other multimedia documents. Often, websites contain a way to contact the owner. If not, it is usually fairly easy to locate contact information on the Web. For example, a search on the name of a paper’s author may reveal that the author is a faculty member at a particular university. The university’s website is likely to include a faculty directory with contact information. The student should send a formal e-mail or business letter indicating:

  • Student’s name, college affiliation, degree program, and course for which the assignment is being completed.
  • Purpose for which the item will be used, e.g. inclusion of photo in website, use of survey for a research project.
  • Exactly what section(s) of the item will be used.
  • The extent to which the item will be available—how large is your audience, how long will the item be available, how will it be conveyed? Example: chart will be included in my final presentation which will be presented once to class of 40 students and instructor.
  • Any alterations that will be made (caution—any substantial changes to the original may lead to denial of permission to use).
  • Thank you for the author/owner’s time and consideration.

If a student has asked for and received permission to use an item, require that the student include a copy of the letter or e-mail granting permission as an appendix to the final product.

Google It

If you suspect plagiarism, use full-text search engines such as Google (http://www.google.com) to search key phrases or sentences in the work. This may help to identify the original source. When inserting the text into the search engine text bar, be sure to include quotation marks around the phrase or sentence for an exact, unfragmented search of your text (e.g. "widely recognized for his work on behalf of early childhood education").

Buying Term Papers Online

Familiarize yourself with sources of ready-made papers. Let students know that you know about these sites and also know how to search for sources of content in their papers. You can use key search phrases such as "free term papers" for locating these sites via a search engine such as Google (http://www.google.com).

Protecting Your Students’ Work

When students produce exemplary work that may be publicly available (e.g. on a website or in a portfolio), advise them to protect it. A simple way to do this is to include a copyright statement followed by e-mail address (see my own copyright information below). The e-mail address provides contact information for anyone who might want to request permission to use the item. In cases of more substantial work, the student should consider registering the copyright. This is a simple and inexpensive procedure, with directions available at http://www.copyright.gov/

Provide a Model for Students

It is very hard for a student to understand the importance of honoring others’ intellectual property rights if the instructor fails to do so. Instructors should review all course handouts, lecture notes, presentations and websites to be sure that these are in compliance with fair use. Instructors should also assume responsibility for remaining current on copyright and fair use, or knowing where on campus help is available when a question arises.


If you have any anti-plagiarism strategies that you wish to share, please send your ideas to either Dr. Anne Hird or Eric LePage and we will post your suggestions on this site.

©December 2004 A. Hird; E. LePage

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